OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)

F20 - Description

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by Steve Roberts, Dave Horsley & Paul Brennan

Location: 1° 15`41`` W, 43° 13`20`` N
Altitude 1937m
Survex: .svx file and .3d file
Exploration: Discovered and explored to the Ivory Tower, 1984
Explored and surveyed to sump: 1985-6
Survey (37kB .gif)

The entrance is not easy to find. Early in the exploration of the cave, the standard route was to climb down to the boulder pile at the bottom of "Bog Alley", and then to ascend to the left up a steep bouldery gully. Later, it was found easier to traverse at a higher level, crossing the scree slope on the way to F6, and to scramble up the steep rocks to its left. F20 is at the top of a moderate-sized scree patch, about 80% of the distance to the top of the ridge. The entrance is a small cleft in the rock.

Entrance Series

The 24m entrance pitch bells out and lands by a pile of snow in a rift about 2m wide. At one end is an undescended pitch; at the other, a short laddered drop. From here, a wide traverse (lined) on reasonable ledges (3m) leads to the hang for the Lone Ranger (23m). The pitch is rigged from naturals higher up in the rift. Freehanging at first, the lower part of the pitch is against the wall, and lands on a small ledge. Here, the shaft is split into two. The larger half (possibly the unrigged pitch from above?) was not descended. Sitting on the "saddle" between the two holes facilitates the changeover onto the rope for Tonto (57m). At first this pitch descends in a 2-3m diameter tube, then the two halves of the shaft re-unite, and the last 35m is in a magnificent wide black shaft to the glistening pinnacles of the Ivory Tower (this is the best part of the whole cave, so I'm allowed to go a bit over the top).

On one side, the shaft continues down; initial explorations attempted to descend here down the side of the huge snow column. No bottom could be seen, and this route was left uncompleted, as a way on with less avalanche danger was found.

A pendule across to a wide eyehole (a splashy place) gives access to another huge shaft system which ascends out of sight. The descent (Fistful of Maillons, 33m) is initially down a sloping broken wall, necessitating complicated rigging. This lands on a wide sloping ledge, with the next drop following immediately. The pitch (27m) descends in a wide rift system; this route was not followed to the bottom as the pushers here preferred to pendule about 20 feet across to an ascending boulder ledge in a rift intersecting the main shaft. A step over a hole leads to a big ledge consisting of one huge boulder (about 3m square) with another one serving as the "roof". The rocks resemble a pair of giant millstones, not a comforting thought when sitting between them waiting to descend. Behind another large block is the last big pitch in the entrance series (33m). This lands on a small boulder bridge 6 feet above the stream, to which one can easily climb down.

Stream Passage

Upstream can be explored for approx. 10m to where water enters from above. Downstream is a 3m climb to the stream; at this point water enters down the left-hand wall. The way on is to follow the obvious traverse level in a meandering rift. The traverse continues for some way on wide ledges. A dry inlet enters from the right; this has not been pushed to any conclusion, the explorers having given up from lack of interest. Eventually the traverse level degenerates to a small tube, with the rift below being choked with boulders.

The tube emerges 1m above the floor of a small chamber. Across from the rift it is possible to see into a large chamber below, which is entered by descending a ladder pitch (9m) rigged from back in the tube. The pitch lands on a boulder floor, with the rift continuing below. A 30m pitch (Rawhide) is rigged from the far end of the chamber, from a bolt with as large rock as backup. The initial section is tight, to a rebelay 10m down, and then the pitch bells out to land on a rock bridge. A 5m ladder rigged on the left wall descends to the stream. An obvious traverse level above this ladder continues upwards at approx. 15° for 15m to a drop which connects with the chamber above Blasphemy Rift.

From the bottom of the ladder, a crawl in the stream, or a friction traverse in the tight rift, rapidly leads to the next pitch, rigged with a short ladder from a boulder. This lands in the stream, and a brief crawl leads to another short pitch which lands in a small chamber with the stream cascading in. The obvious traverse level from the chamber ends after about 10m in large fallen boulders; a climb up here enters a 5x10m chamber. The rift out of this chamber connects to the top of the Blasphemy Rift pitch, but is too tight.

The way on is to descend from the traverse level before the fallen boulders and follow a tight and awkward traverse route for 15m through Blasphemy Rift. Climbs down to the stream (about 30 feet below) are possible but, as the stream runs in a rift about 4 inches wide, somewhat pointless. The traverse ends in a 20m pitch, rigged from a bolt and a natural, which lands on a floor of jammed boulders, and is immediately followed by the next pitch (17m).

The stream is again too narrow to follow. A traverse leads to a climb down to the water, followed by a short grovel, then more traversing. A couple of short pitches (one on ladder, one roped), deposit one at the start of Ernest Rift (from "Today we're starting surveying in earnest.."). The stream flows off down a tight slot, while the way on continues at a higher level. The route is very confusing, with numerous oxbows and some inlets. At one point the obvious traverse level is too tight, and a devious bypass is made by descending 15 feet.

The route continues, widening out slightly to Calamity Jane. This pitch (16m) lands back in the stream. Upstream is a 10m waterfall and a deep pool. Downstream, a comfortable level leads up at approx. 30° . This gains a boulder floor, which peters out after about 40m. The next pitch (28m) is found by descending a short tight climb against the left-hand wall; a short thrutch leads to a squeeze out onto the pitch-head. The pitch lands in the stream, which is comfortably wide (1m) at this point. Upstream, 25m of easy walking passage leads to a 12m waterfall. Downstream was explored for about 40m at stream level, to a short pitch. This was the limit of exploration in 1985.

The foot of this pitch is similar to Calamity Jane and the rift has a wider level ascending at 30° to where it narrows at a large boulder. The passage now degenerates into another series of awkward rifts, initially descending at 40° , but then widening at the head of Songs of Praise. The rift narrows again after the pitch and the way on descends steadily towards the roaring of a big cascade. Off immediately before the top of the cascade a ladder is necessary as the rift widens. This point marks the end of the rift developments; the rest of the cave is spacious by comparison.

At the bottom of the cascade, the passage is easily negotiable at stream level until it narrows after about 20m, and a short climb up to a phreatic roof tube is necessary. A pitch can then be rigged from a bolt. The tube runs parallel to the streamway, but ends after 35m at a vertical shaft. The situation here is that the phreatic development continues on the other side of the shaft, and is reached by penduling across the shaft to an obvious ledge at the bottom of a greasy 60° ramp. The tube continues, but is now 3m or so wide, and full of fallen rocks. After 40m a dry inlet with a fairly level stony floor enters the passage on the left. This is the site of the 1986 camp. Water can be found in the small, tight inlet to the left beyond the camp, where the main passage descends from the tube.

The head of the following pitch is at the end of this short descending passage, and begins as a greasy ramp, becoming a pitch proper after 10 m where the passage rejoins the stream in a series of cascades. At the foot of the cascade is a vast bedding plane chamber, very rocky, with the floor descending at 30° . The floor meets the roof at the bottom of the slope, but the stream has cut a passage through to the final cascade series, which can be rigged from a small dry chamber to the left of the stream.

Here a vertical rift cuts across the bedding and gives access to the fine cascades, which end in a splashy chamber. The stream continues via a few short free-climbable cascades, into a long straight canyon, with some fine vertical inlets (one contains a hanging resurgence about 5 m above sump level) to reach the sump itself: a foreboding black pool. This marks the end of what must rank as OUCC's most severe cave to date, making up in its strenuous rifts and muddy pitches for what it lacks in depth.